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System of Crop Intensification for more productive, resource-

conserving, climate-resilient and sustainable agriculture:


Experience with diverse crops in varying agroecologies

Abstract
Given the continually increasing demand for food that is accompanied by climate change and
the constraints of soil and water availability and quality, the world’s farmers are challenged to
produce more food per hectare with less water and fewer agrochemical inputs if possible. Ideas
and methods from the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) which can improve irrigated rice
production are now being extended/adapted to many other crops: wheat, maize, finger millet,
sugarcane, tef. mustard, legumes, vegetables, even spices. Promoting better root growth and
enhancing soil fertility with organic materials are found to be effective means for getting higher
crop yields with less water, less fertilizer, reduced seed, fewer agrochemicals, and greater
climate-resilience.
In this article, we review what is becoming known about some promising farmer-centered
innovations for agroecological crop management that can promote agricultural sustainability.
These get grouped under the broad rubric of System of Crop Intensification (SCI), which is being
increasingly applied in Asian, African and Latin American countries. More research will be
needed to verify the efficacy and impact of these innovations and to clarify their conditions and
limits. But as no negative effects have been identified for human or environmental health, making
these agronomic options more widely known should prompt more investigation, demonstration
and, to the extent appropriate, utilization of these methodologies.

Keywords: agroecological management, Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative; System of Crop


Intensification; System of Rice Intensification; System of Wheat intensification

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Introduction

During the latter half of the 20th century, most efforts to increase food production were based
on improving and increasing agricultural inputs: new-variety seeds, irrigation water, and
inorganic fertilizers and pesticides. This strategy, whose apotheosis was dubbed the Green
Revolution, did raise the output of food, but with substantial and growing economic and
environmental costs. However, this input-dependent strategy has also had rising costs of
production, and for some years it has been encountering diminishing agronomic and economic
returns (Pingali et al., 1995; Peng et al., 2010). Furthermore, it has had adverse impacts on soil
health, water quality, and biodiversity. For the sake of agricultural sustainability, a quest
complicated by constraints which emanate from climate change, there is need to develop some
alternatives to the currently prevailing paradigm for agriculture so that farmers are not locked in to
a single costly and vulnerable strategy.
The concept and goal of ‘sustainable intensification’ (SI) has received growing support,
although without much agreement on what this means. Some versions of SI focus on achieving
more efficient use of inputs, emphasizing technologies like high-tech precision agriculture for
field crops, alternative-wetting-and-drying for irrigated rice production, and integrated pest and
nutrient management to reduce and optimize the use of agrochemical inputs, e.g., Heaton et al.
(2013), Montpellier Panel (2013), CSISA (2015). These approaches do not question the
desirability or viability of continuing our current input-dependent production strategies. Other
versions of SI, on the other hand, consider how farmers could become less dependent on
external inputs, basing their agriculture more on making modifications in their management of
inputs, seeking to capitalize more on the natural resource base and its inherent capacities, e.g.,
Pretty et al. (2011).
This alternative approach to agricultural improvement, which is broadly characterized as
agroecology, aims to diminish dependence on external inputs as much as possible by mobilizing
the biological processes and potentials that are available in existing plant and animal genomes
and in the soil systems that support both crops and livestock (Altieri, 1995; FAO, 2014;
Gliessman, 2007; Uphoff et al., 2006). To what extent can such a strategy be profitable as well
as sustainable? This question is hard to answer conclusively because most agricultural R&D for
the past 50 years has focused on inputs, giving little attention to management except to make the
input-dependent approach more productive and profitable. Varietal improvement has been the
leading element rather than improving resource management.
Nobody can know for certain what will be sustainable in future decades. But continued and
expanded agricultural production will probably be more sustainable to the extent that reliance on
agrochemical, fossil-fuel and other inputs is diminished. Is it possible to get more output with
reductions rather than increases in agricultural inputs?
We suggest here, based on widespread and diverse evidence, that this is indeed achievable
through the appropriate utilization of agroecological principles and practices. Explanations for
these effects have been proposed in Uphoff (2017). This paper reports on a variety of
innovations by farmers and civil society organizations that have adapted the ideas and methods
of the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) for rice (Stoop et al., 2004; Uphoff, 2015; FAO
2016: 44-47) to a range of other crops: wheat, maize, finger millet, sugarcane, mustard, tef,
various legumes, and some vegetables. The principles and practices that improve the
productivity and resilience of these crops are broadly referred to as the System of Crop
Intensification (SCI), which is the focus of this article. SCI includes versions for wheat, finger
millet, sugarcane, tef, etc., each with its own acronym (SWI, SFMI, SSI, STI, etc.).
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SCI methods are particularly relevant for resource-limited, nutritionally-vulnerable households
because these methods rely minimally on purchased inputs. However, as reported in concluding
this article, it is possible with appropriate mechanization to scale up these methods. Inducing
the growth of larger, better-functioning root systems and increasing and supporting more
beneficial life in the soil, which can buffer the effects of drought, storm damage, extreme
temperatures, pests and diseases, is possible on large as well as small farms.
Because SCI is only about ten years old, most of what is reported here is relatively recent. This
is also why the published literature on SCI is limited. We draw on such literature as much as is
available, but most of what we can report is data from the field rather than from experiment
stations. The results reported are remarkable enough – and important enough for agricultural
sustainability – that skeptics are invited to undertake their own evaluations, preferably under the
realistic and often adverse conditions that farmers must deal with. Enough has been seen and
evaluated in the past decade that we believe SCI phenomena should be made known to persons
concerned with agricultural sustainability, not as something scientifically indisputable, but as
something that warrants further investigation.i
This article draws together and presents a wide range of experience in adapting and applying
the ideas and methods of SRI to sustainably improving diverse crops. It was compiled by
Uphoff from written reports from and direct communication with the other authors, who have
been developing SCI and documenting it in the field for five years or more. It is unfortunate that
not all of the farmers who have helped to create this agroecological strategy could be included
here; they are represented by Baskaran, Fulford and Sharif who joined in preparing this paper.
We hope that readers will appreciate that SCI has become a common-property innovation
and is still under development.

An Overview of the Agronomics of SCI


Before considering the range of SCI innovations that can contribute to food and nutrition security
with less vulnerability to abiotic and biotic stresses, we offer an overview of SCI that spans its
varied manifestations. SCI is an agricultural production strategy which seeks to increase and
optimize the benefits that can be derived from better use of available natural resources: soil,
water, seeds, nutrients, solar radiation, and air. There is always need to consider agricultural
options in context, taking full account of the factors and interactions of time and space so that
field operations are conducted in a timely way, with land area optimally occupied by crops,
and not just by a single crop. It is also important that ecosystem services be
considered (Garbach et al., 2017). Later in this article we will look beyond cropping
systems to consider farming systems in SCI perspective.
Simply stated, SCI principles and practices for the successful cultivation of crops build
upon the productive potentials that derive from plants having larger, more efficient root systems
and from their symbiotic relationships with a more abundant, diverse and active soil biota. Both
roots and soil biota were, unfortunately, largely ignored by the Green Revolution. In the Indian
state of Bihar, SCI was at first referred to as the System of Root Intensification (Verma,
2013). However, this designation does not give concurrent credit to the contributions to crop
productivity made by beneficial soil organisms, which are similarly crucial, and indeed
interactive with robust root systems (Yanni et al., 2002). Through their chemical and physical
impacts on the soil system, roots help to sustain an abundance of life in the soil. These organisms
in turn provide nutrients and protection to the roots and through them to the plant itself.
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The main elements of SCI include:
 Starting with high-quality seeds or seedlings, well-selected and carefully handled to
establish plants that have vigorous early growth, particularly of their root systems.
 Providing optimally-wide spacing of plants to minimize competition between plants
for available nutrients, water, air, and sunlight; this enables each plant to attain close
to its maximum genetic potential.
 Keeping the topsoil around the plants well-aerated through appropriate implements or tools
so that the soil can absorb and circulate both air and water. Usually done as part of weeding
operations, this practice can stimulate beneficial soil organisms, from earthworms to
microbes, at the same time it reduces weed competition.
 If irrigation facilities are available, these should be used but sparingly, keeping the soil from
becoming waterlogged and thus hypoxic. A combination of air and water in the soil is critical
for plants’ growth and health, sustaining both better root systems and soil biota.
 Amending the soil with organic matter, as much as possible, to enhance its fertility and
structure and to support the soil biota. Soil with high organic content can retain and provide
water in the root zone on a more continuous basis, reducing crops’ need for irrigation water.
 Reducing reliance on inorganic fertilizers and pesticides, and to the extent possible,
eliminating them. This minimizes environmental and health hazards and avoids adverse
impacts on the beneficial soil biota, which is essential for SCI success.

These elements underscore the interaction between plants and their environment, unlike the
Green Revolution technologies that regarded crops’ yield as mostly a result of plants’ genetic
potentials plus exogenous inputs, not as the consequence of inputs which were mostly
endogenous to the agroecosystem. The merit of an agroecological approach for achieving more
productive phenotypes from given genotypes of rice has been validated through a number of
well-designed agronomic studies (e.g., Lin et al., 2009; Zhao et al., 2009; Thakur et al., 2010a,
2010b, 2011) as well as for wheat (Dhar et al., 2016).
Even though some of these agroecologically-based processes are still not completely understood
(e.g., Lehmann and Kleber, 2015; Van der Heijden et al., 2015), it is evident that the interactions
between crop plants and the soil biota with respect to water and nutrient uptake will be enhanced
by having individual plants with expanded root systems and a more active and diverse soil
biota (Rupela et al., 2006; Lin et al., 2009; Anas et al., 2011; Barison and Uphoff, 2011; Thakur
et al., 2013). These positive interactions are complemented by the beneficial effects of
symbiotic bacterial and fungal endophytes (Chi et al., 2005; Uphoff et al., 2013).
From many evaluations of rice, we know that yields from any given variety can be boosted by
at least 25-50% by agroecological management, and often the increases are 100% or more. These
effects are quite explainable (Thakur et al., 2016). Crops that have better-developed root
systems, for example, are less vulnerable to drought and to lodging and to being knocked down
by wind or rain. They are also generally more resistant to attacks and losses from pests and
diseases. In addition to enabling crops to resist the stresses of climate change, there are net
reductions in greenhouse gas emissions (Thakur and Uphoff, 2017; Uphoff, 2015). Fortunately,
we are finding that these effects can be extended beyond rice.
In the discussion that follows, we review how farmers in a dozen countries have applied the
concepts and practices of SRI, with appropriate modifications, to a variety of crops. Although
most such applications began less than a decade ago, they have burgeoned. Table 1 lists crops
that have already been improved with SCI methods, and where. These developments have a
wide geographic spread. The majority are in India, but also in Afghanistan, Cambodia, Nepal
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and Pakistan in Asia; in Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Mali and Sierra Leone in Africa; and in Cuba
in Latin America, with SCI getting started also in the United States.

[Table 1 about here]

Initially it was thought that the methods which had succeeded with rice (Oryza sativa) would
apply only to other crops within the broad botanical family of grasses (Gramineae or Poaceae),
such as wheat, barley, millet, tef, even sugarcane, which are classified as monocotyledons. Such
plants have multiple, roughly-parallel stalks or tillers and thick, bushy root systems, rather than
growing with dominant main stems and main (tap) roots from which branching canopies and root
systems emerge. However, it has become clear that dicotyledonous crop plants such as mustard
(canola), legumes, green leafy vegetables, and some spices also respond positively to SCI
practices. Thus, the efficacy of these practices is not limited to monocots.

Crop Reviews
Most examples of SCI derive from farmers’ innovations in crop-growing methods based on their
own observations and experimentation, usually prompted by experience with SRI ideas and
methods for improving their rice production. Since SCI crops are not grown in irrigated rice
paddies as is most SRI rice, the gains that result from farmers’ adapting SRI practices to
unirrigated crops do not derive primarily from changing soil conditions from being anaerobic
(hypoxic) to being aerobic; other mechanisms are involved. Time and again, farmers have seen
improvements in yield, profitability and resilience when they have extrapolated SRI practices to
widely-varying crop types, either on their own or with encouragement from civil-society,
government or university partners. Below we survey the emergence and effects of a range of SCI
applications. Full accounts cannot be offered in an article like this, but more details on the
various crops and methods are available elsewhere: Abraham et al. (2014), Araya et al. (2013),
Behera et al. (2013), Dash and Pal (2011), SRI-Rice (2014), and WOTR (2014). This article
covers what is currently known, much of it from our respective personal involvements with SCI.

Finger millet (Eleusine coracana)


SCI as a concept and strategy can be said to have begun with farmers’ modifications of their usual
methods for cultivating finger millet in India and Ethiopia. These farmer initiatives proceeded
before SRI ideas and methods for rice had become known within their communities.

First Initiatives
About 35-40 years ago, millet farmers in Haveri district of northern Karnataka state of India
developed a system of cultivation they called guli ragi, i.e., ‘hole-planted millet.’ii This food
crop has traditionally been established by broadcasting seed, with yields of 1.25-2.5 tonnes/ha,
and 3.75 tonnes/ha as a maximum. With farmer’s new methodology, young millet seedlings
(20-25 days old) were transplanted into holes spaced 45x45 cm in a square grid pattern, 2
seedlings per hole. Guli ragi included putting a handful of compost or manure into each hole
along with the seedlings to boost soil fertility. With the plants established in a square grid,
intercultivation between rows was possible in perpendicular directions, not just between rows.
The ox-drawn implement that farmers used for this operation functioned like a stirrup hoe,
breaking up, lifting and aerating the surface soil as it cut through the roots of weeds, burying
some of them in the soil (Uphoff, 2006).
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With these methods which closely paralleled SRI methods for rice, farmers achieved yields of
4.5-5.0 tonnes/ha, and as much as 6.25 tonnes (Green Foundation, 2005). Although guli ragi
required more work from farmers, their labour was well repaid. Farmers reported that their
millet crop has more resistance to lodging, especially when traditional varieties were planted;
and their crop was less susceptible to pests and diseases, particularly to stem borers and aphids,
according to the farmers (Uphoff, 2006).
In a parallel development, field staff of the Ethiopian non-governmental organization (NGO)
Institute for Sustainable Development working with farmers in Tigray province under t h e
difficult rainfed conditions there tried some experiments with finger millet in 2003. An elderly
woman farmer transplanted 30-day seedlings at 25-30 cm spacing, a sharp departure from
farmers’ usual broadcasting methods for establishing finger millet; these typically gave yields
around 1.3 tonnes/ha. By applying compost to her small experimental plot, Mama Yehanusu had
an unprecedented yield of 7.6 tonnes/ha, almost triple the 2.8 tonnes yield that she got that
season with her usual methods which included the application of compost. (She was known
to be a good and innovative farmer.) Neighboring farmers who saw this effect began using
transplanting methods to establish finger millet and subsequently began obtaining yields of 4 to
5 tonnes/ha (Araya et al., 2013). In that woreda (district), about 90% of farmers are now using
SCI methods for finger millet, tef and some other field crops, finding SCI spacing and other ideas
to be beneficial.
These two examples of finger millet improvement are reported to begin our review of SCI so
that readers can see what large improvements in yield can be obtained from a given variety
(genotype) on the same soil and with the same climate just by varying the methods of crop
establishment, plant density, soil fertility management, and other practices similar to those used
with SRI for rice. By the middle of this century’s first decade, the System of Crop
Intensification began to emerge as a transnational, trans-crop phenomenon.

India
In 2006, staff of the Indian NGO PRADAN began working with farmers in Jharkhand state to
transfer ideas and methods of SRI which were improving rice yields there to the growing of
finger millet. The impacts on crop phenotype made clear that SRI practices could be as
relevant for finger millet, an upland crop, as for irrigated rice. Figure 1 shows the differences
that changi ng management practices can make. The plant on the right is a local variety
grown with farmers’ usual broadcasting methods. In the center is an improved variety (A404)
raised with the same methods. This shows the difference that an improvement in genotype can
make. The plant on the left is that same improved variety grown with adapted SRI methods:
transplanting young seedlings with wide spacing, soil aeration, and enhanced soil organic matter.
This contrast showed farmers the benefits of using a better genotype (variety), but also how
much improvement is possible with SRI-type crop management. Comparisons of roots shown
in Figure 2 helped to explain the differences in yield. Of particular interest to farmers was that
these methods lowered their costs of production per kg of finger millet by 60% (PRADAN/SDTT,
2012).
[Figures 1 and 2 about here]

It was subsequently learned that two years previously, some researchers at the state
agricultural university in Andhra Pradesh (ANGRAU) had looked at the effects on finger millet
plants’ subsequent root growth of transplanting their seedlings at different ages (Fig. 3). Two
improved varieties were transplanted as seedlings when 10, 15 and 21 days old, respectively.
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Their roots were then compared at 60 days after transplanting. Unfortunately, these results
were never published, even though they showed f i n g e r m i l l e t p l a n t s h a v i n g a root-
growth response to the transplanting of young seedlings that paralleled what was being observed
with rice plants when they were cultivated with SRI practices.

[Figure 3 about here]

In Uttarakhand state in the Himalayan foothills, application of SRI ideas and methods to finger
millet began in 2007 when the NGO People’s Science Institute (PSI) worked with 5 farmers who
transplanted young seedlings (15-20 days old) @ 20x20 cm spacing. This raised their yield by
33% compared with the same variety grown with their usual methods. The next year, 43
farmers tried SCI finger millet on their small rainfed terraced fields. Their average yield was again
2.4 tonnes/ha, while average conventional yield that year dropped from 1.8 tonnes/ha to 1.5
tonnes because of less favorable weather, raising the SCI yield advantage to 60%.
In 2009, a low rainfall year, the number of farmers using SCI methods grew to 340, and
conventional finger millet yields dropped to 1.2 tonnes/ha. However, SCI yields averaged
2.2 tonnes/ha, raising the yield advantage to 83%. Under drought conditions, the SCI yield declined
by only 8%, while conventional millet yields fell by 20-33%, evidence of climate-resilience. By
2011, more than 700 farmers in the area were using these new methods. Since 2012, PSI has
left it to the farmers themselves to further adapt and upscale SCI on their farms, so no
aggregate statistics are available, but the methods have continued to spread (data from PSI
records).
Application of SCI practices to finger millet in Odisha state started in Koraput district in 2010,
promoted by the NGO PRAGATI which works with mostly tribal villages. Initial SCI yields were
2.1 tonnes/ha compared with farmers’ usual yields of 1.0-1.1 tonnes/ha. By 2013, the number
of farmers using the methods escribed in Adhikari (2016) was up to 143; and in 2014, 1,215
farmers used them on 330 hectares, with an average yield of 2.25 tonnes/ha. That year, Koraput
farmers found that their SCI crop resisted damage from Cyclone Hudbud which hit interior
districts of the state. By 2016, 2,259 farmers in Koraput were using finger millet SCI on 545 ha
in 119 villages. Improved varieties produced 4.8 tonnes/ha under SCI management, while local
varieties gave 4.2 tonnes/ha with SCI management. The highest yield recorded that year was 6
tonnes/ha. On fertile soils, finger millet yields with SCI methods have been found to average
4.5 to 4.7 tonnes/ha, a four-fold increase over usual yields (Adhikari, 2016). In 2015,
smallholders in Malawi started growing SCI finger millet with researcher and NGO
encouragement (Ngwira and Banda, 2015).

Wheat (Triticum spp.)


The System of Wheat Intensification (SWI) which adapts SRI ideas and methods to wheat has
been developed mostly in India, although SWI has been started also in Nepal, Pakistan,
Ethiopia and Mali with farmer involvement. Yields vary considerably between and within
countries because of differences in growing conditions (soil, climate, etc.) as well as seasonal
variations; however, this is normal for all crop production. There is a pattern of yield
improvement and resilience with SWI that is common across countries.

India
The first reported SWI results were from the states of Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand in the
Himalayan foothills. In 2006, the People’s Science Institute based in Dehradun conducted t he
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first trials with modified SRI methods for wheat on its own land. Increases of 35-67% in grain
yield were achieved plus 10-30% more straw biomass. Successful trials were conducted by
farmers the next year (Prasad, 2008). Subsequently, SWI use has been expanding in these two
states and in Madhya Pradesh. By 2010, about 13,000 farmers were estimated to be taking
advantage of SWI methods introduced by PSI and its partner local organizations (Chopra and Sen,
2013). In new communities, SWI yield has been averaging 3.4 tonnes/ha (range: 2.1 to 5.6
tonnes), 27% more than farmers’ typical yields. In the 2016 rabi season, the number of farmers
in PSI’s extension area who were using SWI methods was more than double that of the year
before, while the area under SWI tripled (data from PSI records).
In the state of Bihar, the NGO PRADAN started SWI evaluations in the 2008-09 season with
415 farmers on trial plots in Gaya and Nalanda districts, where landholdings are very small, just
0.3 hectare on average. First-year average yields with SWI methods were 3.6 tonnes/ha, double
the yield of 1.6 tonnes/ha that farmers obtained that season with their usual methods. The next
year, SWI use took off, with 25,235 farmers employing the new methods, and 48,521 farmers in
2010-11, with average SWI yields of 4 tonnes/ha.
Based on farmer experience, these methods were published in a manual prepared in both Hindii and
English. SWI costs of production were reported to be higher on a per-hectare basis, but the cost of
production was 28% lower per kg of grain because with SWI practices, wheat yields averaged
4.6 tonnes/ha instead of 2 tonnes/ha (PRADAN, 2012a). In 2010, other NGOs also started
promoting SWI in Bihar with crop responses such as shown in Figure 4. The state government
also began extending SWI under a World Bank-supported poverty-reduction program. This
program reported that average SWI yield increases in 2012 were 72%, with net income/ha raised
by 86% using SWI methods (Behera et al., 2013). By 2016, about 500,000 farmers were using
SWI methods in Bihar on about 300,000 ha, with yields of 4-5 tonnes/ha, an average increase of
60-80%.
[Figure 4 about here]

In Madhya Pradesh state, the government’s rural livelihood mission began introducing SWI to
farmers in tribal areas starting in Shahdol district in 2008-09. Wheat crops there are usually sown
quite densely, using about 175 kg of seed per hectare. With SWI plant spacing, the seed rate is
reduced by 95%, to just 7.5 kg/ha, with much higher yield. Farmers’ current cultivation methods
that require more inputs and more water give farmers average yields of 3.75 tonnes/ha. With
SWI methods, their yields are roughly doubled, in the range of 6.25 to 7.5 tonnes/ha. The
National Rural Livelihood Program based in New Delhi has taken up SWI promotion in the states
of Chhattisgarh, Gujarat, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Odisha and West Bengal, in addition to Bihar
and Madhya Pradesh, working through these states’ respective rural livelihood programs.

Nepal
SWI began to be used here in the terai region bordering India after SRI methods had been
successfully introduced there for rice. The first systematic evaluations were conducted on farmers’
fields in Kailali district in 2010 (Khadka and Raut, 2012), followed by on-farm and on-station
trials in different parts of the country. For SWI, instead of broadcasting seeds or line-
sowing, just one or two germinated seeds were planted (dibbled) per hill with spacing of
hills @ 20x20 cm. Two or three mechanical weedings were done to control weeds and break up
the soil. Trials showed that wheat yield was increased by 91-100% with SWI methods.
Experiments carried out at the Agricultural Research Station at Dailekh in 2014 showed that SWI
methods resulting in better plant architecture with significantly greater root length, also more
leaf area, higher grain weight, and more filled grains per spike compared to wheat grown with
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either line sowing or broadcasting. Also, SWI plants were judged to be greener, having less
senescence, and better able to tolerate temperature stress. This was attributed by researchers
to the plants’ having deeper, better-distributed root systems (Ghimire, 2015).

Afghanistan
In 2011, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) included wheat, the main staple of
Afghanistan, as part of a national strategy to improve agricultural sector performance. SWI
practices were adapted to local conditions, planting wheat in rows using locally-made rakes that
make parallel furrows, followed by drum seeders that dropped wheat seeds into the furrows with
wide spacing. Subsequently, a rotary weeder, also locally-made, was used to remove weeds and
break up the soil surface. Water was provided as necessary, usually just 2 or 3 times during the
growing season (Baryalai, 2013).
By 2015, over 7,000 Afghan farmers from all the major wheat-growing provinces of the country
had been trained in these methods using farmer field school methods. Compared with conventional
cultivation practices, SWI provided average yield increases of 42%, with farmers’ net income/ha
increased by 83% because of their lower costs of production. The training methodologies and tools
developed by FAO for adapting SWI in Afghanistan are now being promoted in a number of other
projects. Case studies give details of the impact that SWI can have on the ground in Afghanistan
(FAO/IPM, 2014a, 2014b).

Mali
Farmers in the Timbuktu region started working with SRI methods to improve their production
of irrigated rice in 2007, assisted by the international NGO Africare. At farmers’ initiative,
trials extrapolating SRI methods to wheat were begun the next year. These trials indicated that
direct-seeded SWI gave higher yields than either conventional methods or SWI with transplanted
seedlings. Further farmer trials in 2009 tested direct-seeding vs. transplanting, the best number of
grains per hill when direct-seeding, and different spacings between hills. Other aspects that farmers
evaluated included applying organic manure instead of using termite-mound soils as has been done
traditionally, and the use of SRI weeders that aerate the soil around plants (Styger and Ibrahim,
2009).
Based on their results from these trials, farmers settled on the practices of direct-seeding with 2
grains/hill spaced at 15x15cm. This allowed farmers to reduce their seed requirement per ha by
90%, from 100-150 kg with traditional broadcasting to 10-12 kg with direct-sown SWI
methods. Such innovation rewarded farmers with wheat yields often doubled and sometimes
even tripled. Over a period of 7 years, while traditional wheat yields in the region have ranged
between 1 and 2 tonnes/ha, and the best yield reached was 2.5 tonnes, the lowest SWI yields
have been 3 tonnes/ha, while some fields have produced 5.5 tonnes/ha.
Today, farmers in the pioneer villages are planting all of their wheat area with SWI methods,
and neighbouring villages have started to adopt SWI in their own fields. In the 2016/17 season, it
is estimated that about half of the wheat area within a 12-village area was planted with SWI. The
spread is probably underestimated because there has been no institutional support or follow-up.
Despite considerable security problems and Jihadist occupation of the Timbuktu region in 2012,
farmers have persevered with SWI methods to improve their wheat production and food security.

Scientific Evaluation
SWI has been studied at the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI) in New Delhi with
replicated, controlled trials over two rabi (winter) seasons, 2011/12 and 2012/13 (Dhar et al.,
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2016). IARI wheat scientists compared their standard recommended practices (SRPs) with the
SWI practices recommended by the NGO PRADAN, based on farmer experience in Bihar
state. The trials also evaluated treatments in which SRP methods were used with SWI water
management or with SWI spacing, as well as growing wheat on furrow-irrigated raised beds.
Direct-seeded SWI gave the best performance on all criteria. (It was determined in the first
season of trials that transplanted SWI was not successful because of climatic conditions, as
reported from Malian farmers’ trials.)
In the first season, which had reasonably normal weather conditions, the SWI plots were found
to give 30% higher yield than the SRP plots. In the second season, weather conditions were
adverse, with high temperatures in the first months and then heavy rains. These conditions
contributed to lower wheat yields across much of northern India that year, but SWI’s yield
advantage rose to 46%, thus showing not only the superior productivity of the new methods,
but also climate-resilience (Dhar et al., 2016).
An economic evaluation of trial results showed SWI methods giving 35% higher net return than
with SRP. Of particular interest for sustainable agriculture was that soil testing of the plots
before and after each season showed t hat N, P and K levels were generally reduced in the
SRP plots, which had been well-supplied with fertilizer, while levels of these nutrients
increased in the SWI plots which had received compost, although not all of the respective
differences i n n u t r i e n t l e v e l s were statistically significant (Dhar et al., 2016). Further
systematic evaluation like this remains to be done for other SCI versions as well as for SWI,
but certainly there is a prima facie case that such research is warranted.

Maize (Zea mays)


Together with rice and wheat, maize is the third major cereal crop in the world, with about one-
third more maize produced and consumed than either rice or wheat. Unfortunately, there have been
fewer efforts to apply SRI ideas to improving the output of maize than of rice or wheat.
The People's Science Institute in Dehradun has worked with smallholders in Himachal
Pradesh, Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh states to improve their maize production using
adaptations of SCI practice. In the first trials in Himachal Pradesh in 2009, farmers direct-
seeded 1-2 seeds per hill, adding compost and other organic matter to the soil, and doing three
soil-aerating weedings. Their average yield of 3.5 tonnes/ha was 75% more than with
conventional methods, which averaged 2 tonnes/ha. Some trials were laid out to measure the
effects of having different spacings between hills. These trials showed the best results being
obtained by sowing seeds in a grid pattern with 40x40 cm spacing. In subsequent years,
however, different spacings have been recommended regarding what spacing is optimal because
this depends upon soil conditions and the maize variety. In Assam state, where maize yields
are usually 3.75-4.5 tonnes/ha, farmers’ version of SCI has been giving yields of 6.0-7.5 tonnes,
with wide spacing of 30x60 cm and with the seed rate reduced by 50% (SeSTA, 2015).
Undertaking further adaptations and evaluations of SCI methods to improve maize production,
particularly for food-insecure, climate-stressed households, should be a priority for SCI
development, given the many millions of households in dozens of countries who depend on this
crop for their sustenance and often also for income. Increases in yield have not been as dramatic
with maize as with some other crops under SCI management. However, the aggregate impact
for people’s well-being can probably be greater from making SCI improvements in maize than
for any other crop.

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Sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum)
India
The Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative (SSI) launched in 2009 by a joint WWF/ICRISAT program
(Gujja et al., 2009) had crucial antecedents in the work of sugarcane industry researchers over the
four preceding decades. Their innovation of propagating cane from bud chips, small
amounts of primordial tissue cut out of the cane, made it possible to devise a methodology that
could scale up SCI principles to large-scale production of this crop. The idea of germinating
cane vegetatively from bud chips to grow seedliings for transplanting, instead of resprouting cane
plants from whole lengths of cane laid in the soil, goes back as far as the 1950s. However, this
method for crop establishment was used only experimentally or in demonstrations for several
decades, not expanded into widespread practice.
Fortuitously, when farmers in Andhra Pradesh state in the mid-00s who were SRI methods for
growing rice started adapting these practices for their sugarcane production as well, their
initiatives came to the attention of researchers who could assist in improving the process. Some
pioneering farmers had found that by adapting SRI ideas and methods to their sugarcane production
they could boost their output from 40 tonnes/ha to 100 tonnes/ha (Uphoff, 2005). Researchers
with the Andhra Pradesh state agricultural university (ANGRAU) began working with these
farmers to refine this innovation (Bhushan et al., 2009).
The WWF-ICRISAT program which was already engaged with SRI evaluation and promotion
for rice took an interest in improving sugarcane production because conventional methods
have adverse impacts on water supply and quality as well as on soil health. The program
began experimenting with starting and then transplanting sugarcane seedlings grown from bud
chips. This meant that most of the seed cane was left available to be crushed to make sugar. The
chips were placed into small cups filled with planting material to grow roots and shoots while
in nurseries; healthy seedlings were then planted into the main field after 25 days. The resulting
SSI technology was well-suited to smallholder operations but could also be scaled up for larger,
commercial-scale operations.
Most of the elements of SSI are similar to SRI, although the age of seedlings differs because
sugarcane has different growth dynamics from rice (Gujja et al., 2017). The 90% reduction in
number of plants/ha greatly reduces mortality among the young plants, no longer overcrowded,
which results in more efficient use of the water and nutrients available in the soil. With SSI,
there is no flooding of the field, and organic matter is applied as mulch or compost. The
resulting canes are heavier and have a somewhat higher content of sugar when crushed, in
one analysis calculated to be 2.5% more.
Farmers’ costs of production/ha with SSI are cut by about 30% because there is less need
for water and fertilizer as well as for agrochemical protection since the incidence of pests and
diseases in the cane fields is less. Systematic evaluation of SSI began in four states of India in
2011 and 2012, with yield increases generally about 40%. A major benefit documented was that
because of the cane plants’ larger root systems, SSI ratoon harvests (a second cutting with no
re-planting) was often even greater than from the first (planted) crop, with lower production
costs. Under conventional management, ratoon-crop yields are usually lower than from the first
harvest (Gujja et al., 2017). A social-entrepreneurial consulting firm based in Hyderabad, India,
AgSRI (http://www.agsri.com/), has been disseminating SSI knowledge among sugarcane
producers outside as well as within India.

East Africa
SSI was introduced in Kakamega county of Kenya by AgSri in 2015 in collabouration with West
Kenya Sugar Factory Ltd. Cane yields there are traditionally low because the county lies at 1500
11
m above sea level, and low temperatures at this high altitude slow the growth of cane. Average
yields are 70 tonnes/ha. SSI management boosted yields to 90 to 100 tonnes/ha on
demonstration plots in the 2016-17 season, an increase of 40-50% over traditional methods.
SSI is also getting started in neighboring Tanzania.

Caribbean
The new methods have been introduced in several Cuban sugar cooperatives which learned about
Indian SSI experience through AgSri. The first coop, in the western end of the island, which
planted an experimental plot of 0.9 ha in 2012 using 40-day-old transplanted, single-bud seedlings.
It got a cane yield of 150 tonnes/ha compared to its usual yield of 60 tonnes/ha. A second
cooperative, in the easternmost, dryer part of the country, has planted 600 of its 1,114 ha of cane
land with the wider spacing of SSI. The advantages reported are: being able to incorporate
more female workers in the planting operation because the workload is lighter when seedlings
are used rather than long, heavy seed cane; a shortening of the planting period; higher yield,
85-100 tonnes/ha compared to previous yields of 60-75 tonnes; and major reductions in planting
material, only 2-3 tonnes/ha instead of 8-10 tonnes. Despite such demonstrated advantages, there
has been little evident interest in SSI so far at the national level in Cuba. AgSri has also done
SSI training in Belize.

Tef (Eragrostis tef)


This crop indigenous to Ethiopia is the country’s most popular grain. By the year 2000, farmers’
production of tef lagged so far behind national demand that tef’s high market price put it beyond
the reach of many consumers. Sadly, many smallholding producers could not afford to consume
their own crop, selling it off for a good price to buy cheaper coarse grains for home consumption.
In 2006, the government banned the export of tef flour to curb the further rise of tef prices. The
upward price pressure was fueled in part by tef’s becoming regarded as a health food in the US
and Europe because of its many desirable nutritional qualities.
In 2008/09, after learning how SRI ideas and methods were being successfully extrapolated to
raise the production of finger millet in India, exploratory trials using SRI practices and
principles with tef showed that SRI methods could be adapted for tef, even though it is
extremely fine-grained (Berhe et al., 2017). Traditionally, the crop has been established by
broadcasting with very high plant density but also low yield, just 0.5-1.2 tonnes/ha. Because the
seeds were sown so densely, plant roots do not get well-established, and the crop is susceptible to
lodging, which lowers both the quantity and the quality of the harvest.
First-year trials showed that by transplanting tef seedlings about 25 days old with 20x20 cm
spacing and enhanced soil organic matter, yields of 3-5 tonnes/ha could be obtained. When certain
soil micronutrients were applied in addition to N, P and K, even higher yields could be obtained,
6-8 tonnes/ha (Berhe and Zena, 2009). Further evaluation the next year supported by Oxfam
America through a grant to the Institute for Sustainable Development (ISD) confirmed these
results, and the government of Ethiopia began to take an interest in this methodology, starting its
own trials and evaluations in 2010/11.
Because the government wanted and needed to raise the production of tef quickly and on a very
large scale, experiments were undertaken to develop a less labour-intensive version of the System
of Tef Intensification (STI) by drilling seeds in rows with wide spacing, instead of growing
and transplanting seedlings. This methodology which was christened TIRR (Tef with
Improved seed, Reduced seed rate, and Row planting) raised grain yield by about 70% over
usual production levels, with a 90% reduction in seed (needing only 3-5 kg of seed/ha instead of
30-50 kg) and without the increased labour needed for growing seedlings and transplanting.
12
TIRR methods like those of STI have induced more vigorous tillering and grain production as
shown in Figure 5. In 2011/12, the government’s Agricultural Transformation Agency (ATA)
set a target of having 70,000 farmers start using these new tef methods. But there was a large
overshoot as 160,000 farmers used TIRR practices, while 7,000 used the more labour-intensive
but more productive methods of STI. Trials conducted the next year showed that large gains in
productivity can be achieved when shifting from broadcasting to direct-seeding to transplanting as
seen in Figure 6. Seed requirements can be reduced by two orders of magnitude with almost a
tripling of yield.
[Figures 5 and 6 about here]

ATA has reported that in 2014/15, 2.2 million farmers were using TIRR methods, one-third of
the total number of tef farmers in Ethiopia. Average TIRR yields, 2.8 tonnes/ha, were 75% higher
than the average from traditional methods, 1.6 tonnes. ATA also found that the yields from
traditional methods were rising, probably at least in part because Ethiopian farmers were coming
to understand that they could get more production by lowering their seeding rates. Nationally,
the production of tef grain has risen from 3 million tonnes in 2008/09 when SCI
experimentation started to 4.7 million tonnes in 2014/15 (ATA, 2016 =). In 2015/16, most
farmers’ tef plantings were constrained by serious drought resulting from El Niño, but the
spread and performance of TIRR and STI has continued. Over time, Ethiopian farmers may use
the more labour-intensive methods of STI because they raise both land and labour productivity;
but for now, the less labour-demanding methods of TIRR are preferred (Abraha et al., 2017).

Mustard (Brassica juncea and B. carinata)


This crop, also known as canola, has tiny seeds much like tef, but it is used as an oilseed
rather than as a cereal (or it can be processed to extract an essential oil for cosmetic or other
uses). Mustard is an important crop in many parts of South Asia where mustard oil is a
preferred cooking oil, on a par with soya oil and peanut oil. That mustard plants can be grown with
low rainfall and on poor soils makes this an important crop for many smallholders.
The oilseed yields from mustard plants grown in India by broadcasting methods are rather low,
usually only about 1 tonne/ha or less. With SCI management, mustard yields average 3 tonnes/ha
and can even reach 5 tonnes, or even more (India Today, 2017). Young seedlings when just 8-12
days old are transplanted into pits dug about 20-25 cm deep and 15 cm in diameter, which are
refilled with soil that has been made loose for good root growth. The recommended spacing of
hills depends on the duration of the variety planted. Mustard varieties that mature in <100 days
are best spaced 30x30 cm, using about 600 grams of seed/ha, while mustard plants of a variety
that matures in 130-150 days should be spaced 75x75 cm, using less than 200 grams of seed/ha
(PRADAN, 2011b).
As with tef, seed rates reduced by >95% can give much higher yields. The soil in the pits is
enriched with compost, preferably vermicompost, and yields can be boosted by applying some
biofertiliser, e.g., Trichoderma, and small amounts of inorganic fertilizer. At ~60 days after
transplanting, the soil around the plants is broken up with a hoe or spade while eliminating weeds.
While such intensification of crop management increases the costs of production, higher yield
cuts the costs per kg of mustard seed produced by half, which makes the added work profitable.
The NGO PRADAN started SMI experimentation and evaluation in Gaya district of Bihar state
with seven women farmers in 2009-10. Within two years, the number had expanded to 1,600, and
a manual was prepared on the agronomics and economics of SMI (PRADAN, 2012b).
Farmers working with the NGO People’s Science Institute in Uttarakhand and Madhya Pradesh
states have had average yield increases of 40% with reduced costs per kg produced. In 2015,
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23 farmers in Madhya Pradesh tried grid-spacing mustard with large d i s t a n c e (100 cm)
between rows. They planted an improved variety o f m u s t a r d (RP09 -- Brassica carinata)
and had an average yield of 2.73 tonnes/ha (range: 1.8 to 3.3 tonnes/ha). In the 2016 rabi
season, the number of farmers in these villages who were using SCI methods tripled, with more
than a 10x increase in area, showing farmer interest in the new methods. There has been
experimentation with SCI mustard and area expansion in other Indian states as well (India Today,
2017).

Pulses
The productivity of pulses, also referred to as legumes, has been demonstrably improved by
promoting the vigorous early growth of plants, starting with properly-selected seed and making
special efforts to stimulate the growth of plant roots. The density of plant populations is
greatly reduced through wider spacing between plants, while the organic matter in the soil is
enhanced, and efforts are made to keep the soil (at least its surface) well-aerated while
controlling weeds. These practices encourage both root growth and more active soil biota.
Specific pulse crops whose performance has been improved with SCI methods were listed in
Table 1. Here we give some reported results from India as examples.

India
Work with SCI ideas to improve pulse production in this country started in Uttarakhand state in
2007 at the initiative of the People’s Science Institute. The basic approach for pulse SCI has been
to plant just 1 or 2 seeds in hills that are spaced widely in a square or rectangular grid pattern.
Soil fertility is enhanced by amendments of organic matter, and then there is active soil aeration
that promotes root growth and stimulates the life in the soil. Direct-seeding has usually proved
better than transplanting, but the method of crop establishment should be tested to see which is
more suitable for that legume in that location.
PSI has found that the yield increases across seven kinds of pulses average about 45%, with
much lower seed requirements and, perhaps more important, with less loss from either water stress
or water excess. The seeds are often treated before sowing with some combination of cow urine,
jaggery (unrefined sugar), trichoderma, phosphate-solubilizing bacteria (PSB), and rhizobium
culture to inhibit plant diseases and to promote more biological activity in the seed and soil.
There have been no resources or institutional support for concerted promotion of SCI for
pulse crops, sSo the spread has been mostly opportunistic, often rapid locally but slow overall.
Demonstrating the advantages of SCI practices with pulses has usually started with farmer or
NGO initiative, e.g., Shankar (2014), AMEF (2012), Bhatt (2014), although SCI modifications in
pulse-growing are being accepted by government agencies, e.g., Ganesan (2013), KVK (2014).
The state poverty-reduction program in Bihar reported that by 2012, SCI methods were raising
pulse yields there on average by 56% for 41,645 resource-limited households which used the
methods on 15,590 ha that year. Because of their lower costs of production,
households’ net income from pulse-growing increased by 67% (Behera et al., 2013). While the
application of SCI ideas and methods for improving pulse production is not as advanced as SRI
for rice or SWI for wheat, these methods are spreading, whether or not designated as ‘SCI.’

Vegetables
The extrapolation of SCI ideas and methods to vegetables has been more diffuse than other kinds
of SCI because vegetables are such a diverse category. Here are reports from several countries.

14
India and Pakistan
The Bihar poverty-reduction program cited in the paragraph above on pulse SCI reported that
also in 2012, over 60,000 households were using SCI methods to improve their growing of
tomatoes, eggplants (also known as aubergine or brinjal), and other vegetable crops on 5,244
hectares. (Poor households in Bihar have very small areas for growing vegetables.) Their average
increase in yield was 20%, but their net income/hectare was 47% greater given their lower costs
of production (Behera et al., 2013).
In the state of Odisha, an NGO which started introducing SRI methods for rice in that state,
Udayama, has reported t h a t f a r m e r s go t d o u b l e d yi e l d o f e g gp l a n t w h e n t h e y
a d a p t e d S R I c oncepts and methods for this vegetable. The top SCI yields are 50% higher
than the previously reported maximum for eggplant Wider spacing, organic fertilization, and
other management changes resulted in plants that have many more blossoms and more and bigger
fruits (Dash and Pal, 2011). This publication reports on SCI for several other vegetables as well
as eggplants on pages 24-27.
At the other end of the spectrum from smallholder farming, SCI ideas have been adapted for use
in highly-mechanized vegetable production under large-scale operations in the Punjab province of
Pakistan (Sharif, 2011; SRI-Rice, 2014). Similar kinds of productivity and income gains are
reported for potatoes, onions and other crops using this capital-intensive production system.
(Data are reported in Table 2 in the section below on broader adaptations of SCI.)

USA
An organic farmer in the state of Maine has taken up SCI methods for his diversified cropping,
finding them quite versatile. Along with other crops, carrots have responded well to SCI
methods. From a 25-m long raised bed (38 m2) that was cultivated using SCI ideas and
methods adapted to vegetable production, 109.5 kg of Grade A carrots were harvested, seen
in Figure 7 (Fulford, 2014). This yield was equivalent to 73 tonnes/ha, 3.3 times more than a
typical yield from this variety (Cordoba). All but 12% of the harvest could be marketed as
Grade A as there was little damage from rodents or deer, and no wireworms or carrot fly
maggots. The crop also had virtually no disease and was sold for what would be $170,000 on a
per-hectare basis. The 2016 season carrot crop gave similar results, but with a different variety
having better flavor and uniformity. These methods have been adapted also to beets, parsnips,
turnips, and daikon (winter radish).
[Figure 7 about here]

Sierra Leone
A very different kind of vegetable production can make use of SCI ideas and methods to
improve the output of a green leafy vegetable in West Africa locally known as krain krain.
This is widely grown and consumed in S i e r r a L e o n e and other countries in the region.
This vegetable, more generally known as mallow, has the scientific name Corchorus olitorius.
The adaptation of SCI practices includes starting with the transplanting of young seedlings (8-15
days old) rather than broadcasting, which greatly reduces seed requirements. The plants are
widely spaced at 20x20 cm, and farmers enhance the soil with organic matter. Weeding with
earthing up around the plants and active soil aeration is done between the plants every 7 days to
promote better growth.
Krain krain plants grown this way can give two harvests instead of just one since their larger
root systems enable them to produce a significant ratoon (regrowth) crop. Moreover, farmers by
harvesting seed from their second crop no longer need to buy seeds. Seed purchase is
necessary when farmers grow krain krain conventionally because such plants are harvested by
15
removing them from the garden before t h e r e i s any seed-set.
Intensified SKKI management requires about 40% more labour per hectare, but the greater
yield attained from a single transplanting more than repays the increased effort. With their usual
practices, farmers collect about 300 grams of krain krain leaves from the 250-350 plants that
grow unevenly and densely on a broadcasted square meter of land, w i t h a yield
equivalent of 3 tonnes/ha. Under SKKI management, on the other hand, farmers can gather
700 grams of leaves from their first harvesting of the 25 plants that grow on a square meter, a
yield equivalent to 7 tonnes/ha. Then, because these plants have larger, deeper root systems and
continue to put out more leaves, farmers can harvest another 3 kg per square meter, which
represents an additional yield of 30 tonnes/ha.
While a third harvesting period would be possible from SKKI plants, collecting seed after a
second period of leaf collection is more valuable and thus preferred. The seeds harvested from
these plants are more robust and have a 90% germination rate, a benefit not included in financial
calculations of yield. Farmers find that plants grown with SKKI methods are more resistance to
pest damage, even from grasshoppers, as leaf damage is quickly repaired by plants t hat hav e
good root systems. When an SKKI crop was grown under upland (unirrigated) conditions
during the season between the rains, it showed reasonable drought-resistance as harvesting
could be done twice and seeds could harvested during the dry season with the crop needing little
additional water.
This productive potential has always been within krain krain plants. But it was not realized due
to the conditions under which they were being cultivated, particularly with dense sowing.
Knowledge of SRI and SCI practices encouraged this experimentation with krain krain in
Sierra Leone. These examples of horticultural improvement on three continents should encourage
SCI applications and extrapolations for more cost-effective vegetable production in many other
countries and with diverse crops.

Spices
That SCI ideas and methods have been extended to spice crops helps us understand the
mechanisms and the potentials of this strategy for dealing with food and nutrition insecurity, with
farmers in a leading role. Similar to the SCI experience with vegetable cultivation, farmers in
several states of India, once they became acquainted with SRI ideas and methods through their rice
cropping, have begun adapting these to their spice crops.

Turmeric
The first initiative that we know of was in Tamil Nadu state of India, where members of the
Thumbal SRI Farmers Association in Salem district developed an SCI methodology for
growing turmeric (Cucurma longa). This has been presented in a manual prepared by the
Association’s founder and president (Baskaran, 2012). The methods employed are similar to
those developed for sugarcane. Instead of planting whole rhizomes or parts of rhizomes in the
field, turmeric plants are grown from seedlings that are started in nurseries from small cuttings of
rhizome. These are put into cups filled with planting material and vermicompost, w i t h s o m e
biofertiliser enhancement added, to sprout. This reduces the amount of planting material
needed to grow t urmeri c by 80% giving farmers an immediate saving. At 40-45 days, the
seedlings are transplanted into the field, preferably onto raised beds with furrow irrigation, at a
wide spacing (30x40 cm). Irrigation can be reduced by about two-thirds. The rhizomes that
result from such cultivation have more primary and secondary fingers. The yield increase is only
25%, but farmers’ costs of production are reduced by USD 825/ha, even with their additional
labour. The resulting increase in farmers’ net income is almost USD 1,000/ha (Baskaran, 2012).
16
Cumin
In Gujarat state of India, farmers working with the Aga Khan Rural Support Project have
adapted SCI concepts and methods to their production of spices. In an initial trial where cumin
seeds were planted with wide and regular spacing, instead of being broadcasted, farmers’ cost
of seed was reduced by 95% with higher yield. A traditional organic fertilizer concoction
made from diverse local materials was sprayed on the crop in the field every 15 days. Even with
much wider spacing between plants (30x30 cm), plant biomass per m2 was increased by 40%
(Singh, 2015a). Seeds per plant were increased by 125%, while the seed weight went up by as
much as 50%. The yield of cumin seed under SCI management was 65% higher than from the
farmer’s control plot, and 83% above the average yield for cumin seed in India. Because total
costs of production were cut by 80% compared to farmers’ current practice, which is heavily
dependent on purchased inputs, their resulting net income per unit area was increased by 150%
(Singh, 2015a).

Coriander
The gains from SCI management of this spice w h e n first tried in the state of Gujarat
were not as much as with cumin, but still non-trivial. Coriander seeds, instead of being
broadcast, were sown in rows 50x50 cm apart. During the season, within-row spacing
between plants was progressively increased by uprooting and removing some of the plants
within the rows as they grew. This gave the remaining plants more room to grow. The young
green leaves harvested by this thinning operation weree sold for a good price in local markets,
adding to farmer income from the crop.
This methodology reduced the seed rate by 50% and gave a 10% increase in yield with a 16%
increase in seed weight. The increase in net income justified the additional management effort
invested (Singh, 2015b). This was a first attempt to adapt SCI methods to coriander, which may or
may not be amenable to making greater gains in production by introducing further SCI
modifications of conventional practice.
Spices are not as central to food security objectives as are cereals and many other crops, but they
are a more important source of income for households than is often recognized. Spice growing
and marketing tends to be handled by women. Growing spices can add to the incomes of food-
insecure households, especially female-headed ones, and enhanced climate-resilience will be
important for maintaining household incomes. We anticipate that further SCI experimentation
and adaptation will be seen for spice crops.

Fruit crops
It was not initially considered that SRI methods could be extrapolated from annual crops to
perennials. But t h e r e h a v e b e e n e x p e r i m e n t s m a d e b y f a r m e r s in the United
States and India extrapolating SCI principles to orchard production. The productivity of fruit
trees is greatly affected by soil qualities beyond those that are measured in conventional soil
testing, and also by factors of timing and spacing of operations such as fertilization, planting,
and pruning. Colleagues have found their synchronisation of orchard operations with critical
stages of tree growth to have analogues in SCI theory and practice.

USA
Experience with organic orchard management has underscored that fruit trees’ performance is
greatly affected by biological factors such as the ratio of fungal-to-bacterial microbes and the
extent of mycorrhizal-fungal biomass associated with tree roots. Biological activity has effects that
17
go beyond the direct supply of nutrients in the soil, affecting nutrient availability and uptake as
well. Close spacing, for example, leads to loss of the lower limbs of trees that are placed
in competition with each other, and various disease problems are aggravated by close spacing.
Cutting out half of the trees in an orchard that has been planted too densely can lead to gains in
tree health with no loss of production. When trees grow so that their limbs touch, there is a
plateauing of production as this proximity hampers both photosynthesis and airflow, and their
respective root systems become intermeshed.
Applications of inorganic N fertilizer lead to rapid, unstable vegetative growth in perennial plants
much as with annuals. ‘Forced-feeding’ of trees to increase production beyond the trees’ growth
and maintenance needs does not give higher yield or better fruit quality. Also, pruning in
orchards more than once during the year, during the dormant and early fruit-sizing stages, is quite
beneficial as it facilitates sunlight penetration while diverting energy reserves from vegetative
growth into already-developing fruit production and a l s o into future fruit-bud formation.
Maintaining plant diversity on the orchard floor supports larger, more diverse populations of
insect pollinators and beneficial predators that help keep tree pests in check. This whole set of
practices reduces the need for spraying of crop-protection products, t h e r e b y reducing
labour and input costs. These observations, based i n d u c t i v e l y on orchard management
experience, became more comprehensible once farmers become acquainted with the
principles of SRI and SCI (Mark Fulford, personal communication).
Extrapolating SCI methods to perennial crops, emphasizing root growth, nurturing symbiotic
associations with non-plant organisms, and appreciating the ecological interactions of diverse
species, means that external inputs of water and nutrients can be reduced, making for less cost
and less effort. Dry weather has less adverse effects on production than before. In the 2016
season, when there was a prolonged drought in Maine, the Fulford orchard surpassed its previous
yields and quality by wide margins. A single Hudson Golden Gem tree produced 340 kg of top-
quality fruit, bringing in almost USD 2,000 in income, enough to pay the farm’s local taxes.
Unsaleable fruit was converted into juice; the left-over pulp was used as animal feed, and
prunings were chipped and composted, thereby achieving zero-waste orchard economics. Even as
weather conditions have become harsher, tree crops are measurably more resilient to drought, frost,
downpours and wind, and there is no soil erosion. Shelf-life and lasting flavor of these perishable
crops has been enhanced, with a cull rate for discarding poor-quality fruit lower than in previous
seasons. These factors all affect a farmer’s ‘bottom line’ and enhance operations’ profitability.

India
In Madhya Pradesh, the state’s poverty-reduction program which has been promoting SRI and
SWI has experimented with SCI ideas to improve fruit production in poor villages. One focus has
been tree-planting in Shahdol district. The SCI elements that inform the planting and
management of these trees are careful attention to seedling roots, wide spacing, enhancement of
root zones with organic matter (compost), and surface mulching to conserve soil moisture and
keep soil temperatures from rising in the hot summer sun. Within fields where SRI rice and SWI
wheat are grown in the summer and winter seasons, respectively, farmers are establishing and
maintaining fruit crops – mango, guava, pomegranate, banana and papaya – in conjunction
with their cereal cropping, to intensify their farming systems.
Although tree crops are different agronomically from annuals, farmers with SCI experience
avoid crowding of trees and enrich the soil around trees’ roots organically to promote root growth.
With traditional methods of fruit cropping in Sagar district of Madhya Pradesh, farmers’ yields of
mango are usually 3.7 to 4.3 tonnes/ha, for example. About 45 villages in this district have now
established one-acre demonstration plots for fruit-tree SCI. With their yields now already about
18
50% higher than they were previously, farmers are already adding USD 15 per month to
their income. This monthly increase is expected to become USD 45-50 when their trees become
more mature (Anoop Tiwari, personal communication).
Promotion of root growth and building up the soil biota is proving congenial for the husbandry
of fruit trees as well as of crops. This represents an evolution beyond SCI as a cropping system to
more integrated resource management that intensifies farming systems and makes them more
productive and sustainable, as discussed in the next section. Our reports on SCI applications to
orchard crops are necessarily more tentative than reports in the preceding sections about SCI
applications to field and garden crops. We offer these emerging ideas and experience with the
hope that they may stimulate others’ imagination and practice to move orchard management in
more agroecological directions for greater production, food security, and climate resilience.

Broader Integrative Adaptations


The preceding section reported on modifications made in agronomic management that raise the
productivity of the respective crops reviewed. These changes offer specific opportunities to raise
food production in ways that are relatively more resilient to the adverse impacts of climate change.
But food and nutrition security depends on more than on the growing of particular crops. It is
affected by whole farming systems, including multiple crops and livestock as well as possibly
aquaculture and forest products. As knowledge has spread of the productivity gains accessible
from SCI’s agroecological adaptations, there have been farming-system innovations that we
consider briefly here.

Multiple Cropping and Intercropping

Ethiopia
As noted in the section on finger millet, some of the first SCI stirrings occurred in this country
where the Institute for Sustainable Development was working with smallholder farmers dependent
on rainfed crop production. The merits of starting crops from seedlings, rather than from seed, and
of planting these with wider spacing in soil t h a t h a s b e e n enhanced with compost were
promoted by ISD staff among farmers and local extension officers in Tigray province and other
parts of Ethiopia before they had any knowledge of the SCI experiences that were beginning also
in India about the same time. As knowledge has been shared back and forth, a concerted effort
was made to extend these ideas and methods to a variety of crops, cereals, legumes and
vegetables. Ethiopian farmers themselves named this improved crop management methodology
as ‘planting with space,’ a concept easier to communicate than the more abstract term
‘intensification’ (Araya et al., 2015).
A key element of agroecological thinking and practice is to consider the effects of
complementarities between and among different crops, e.g., their various heights and
above-ground architecture as well as t h e i r differing rooting depths and conformations
underground. Farmers working with ISD have experimented with different combinations and
layouts of cereal, legume and vegetable crops to capitalize more fully upon sunlight and upon
both water and nutrients in the soil. With more space, individual plants grow better, but also
intercropping several plant species helps all perform better if they complement each other.
Intercropping can benefit crop plants by covering the ground between them, inhibiting weeds,
and helping to retain soil moisture, which is especially important in water-stressed areas and
seasons. Further, intercropping helps families with limited landholdings to generate more
19
income and to have a better distribution of food, nutrition and income throughout the year,
particularly through relay cropping where crops are grown in overlapping sequences. So long as
organic matter is returned to the soil through crop residues and by applications of manure and
compost, and so long as the soil is kept well-protected by mulch, repeated and continuous use
of soil does not often degrade its quality.iii
Recall that bringing in intercropping to intensify farming systems is one important element of
the Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative discussed above. Cane crops benefit from wider spacing,
but this also creates more space between rows and plants that can be utilized for shorter-duration
crops which provide both nutritional and income benefits. Intercropping with legumes, which have
been discussed above, has the added benefit of improving soil fertility through nitrogen fixation.
Given that much sugarcane in Asia and Africa is grown under monocultural outgrower schemes,
the introduction of wider spacing between sugarcane plants and rows has particular relevance for
the food security and nutritional intake of farming households in such schemes. Intercropping is
also a practical strategy for adapting to climate change by diversifying income and nutrition
streams while also improving the productivity of the water resources available for agriculture.

India
Farmers working with the People’s Science Institute in northern India have pioneered SCI
innovation with various crops as seen in the sections on SCI in finger millet, wheat, maize, pulses
and vegetables. At the same time they have been trying to optimize their use of resources -- land,
labour, seed, water, and capital -- by making various modifications in their farming systems.
Although the per-hectare costs of SCI usually exceed those of conventional practice because of
the need for additional labour for manual seeding and doing regular weeding, the benefit-cost ratio
for SCI still works out to be about 50% higher because of increases in total yield (calculated
from PSI data), often combined with improved quality of the product.
In 2013, some trials with intercropping were undertaken by farmers of Uttarakhand state who
sowed wheat seeds at 20x20 cm spacing, and in part of the same plot, every third row of wheat
was replaced by mustard, maintaining the same plant-to-plant spacing of 20 cm. The mustard was
sown after the wheat plants had gotten established. Monocropped SWI gave an average yield of
5.15 tonnes/ha (range 4.3-6.0 tonnes), while SCI intercropping of wheat and mustard gave
respective average yields of 4.63 tonnes/ha and 0.32 tonnes/ha. The value of produce from SWI
alone amounted to USD 790/ha, whereas SCI intercropping of wheat and mustard gave a
combined value of USD 850/ha, raising farmers’ income by 7%. The additional labour required
was not valued in this calculation as this was unpaid household labour, so the economics of
this might not be commercially profitable. However, for households with limited land
availability and urgent nutritional needs, this increment was worth the extra labour invested.
Additional trials undertaken with SCI intercropping have included combining long- and short-
duration pulses in Madhya Pradesh, and mixing maize with ground crops such as ginger in
Himachal Pradesh. These trials have indicated that intercropping with adapted SCI methods can
not only achieve greater value of produce per unit of land, but also gives more resilience to
climate vagaries such as droughts, early withdrawal of rains, and excessive rain, increasing
farmers’ capacity to cope with risks. Much more experimentation and evaluation remains to be
done, but a next step for SCI development is to move beyond monocropping.

Diversification Integrated with Pond Culture


Some of the farmers and organizations working with SRI and SCI have found that they can increase
their land and water productivity as well as the profitability and nutritional value of their farming
operations by bringing in aquaculture along with their horticultural and grain production.
20
Cambodia
The best example is found here, where hundreds of farmers -- once they had learned how to raise
the productivity of their rainfed rice area through SRI practices -- began redeploying a portion of
their land and labour to growing crops other than rice. This diversification of their farming
systems raised total food output and also income. In what is called ‘multi-purpose farming’
(MPF), pioneered by the NGO CEDAC, Cambodian farmers have found it advantageous to
take about 40% of the rainfed land area out of rice production in order to construct a
catchment pond on about 15% of their farm area. This has similarities to the ‘5% model’
developed by the NGO PRADAN in eastern India for the same purposes (Pangare, 2003).
The structure that is built captures rainwater during the rainy season for use after the rains stop.
On the reassigned land take out of rice production, farmers grow fruits, vegetables and spices and
raise small livestock such as pigs, chickens and ducks. The ponds that they construct are
stocked with fish, and sometimes also with frogs and eels. These aquatic crops which thrive
with the agrochemical-free rice cropping which SRI farmers follow are quite profitable. The
ponds contribute to higher rice yield because they drain water off the rice paddies during rainy-
season flooding, and then provide the rice crop with water during subsequent dryer months.
Since these farmers have only about 1 ha of cultivable land, their production has to be intensive
to support their households. Within four years of starting MPF, about 400 farmers in five provinces
had redesigned their farming operations to capitalize on the higher land and water productivity that
SRI was giving them. This enabled them to meet their staple food needs while diversifying their
production. Details of five MPF farming systems have been reported and analysed in Lim (2007).
A study by Tong and Diepart (2015) reported on how 2,400 households have taken up this
kind of intensification in half a dozen provinces once other NGOs in addition to CEDAC began
promoting MPF. By raising rice yields, SRI methods make redeployment of some of the rice
area feasible. The study showed that household net income was increased by about two-thirds from
the same land area. The investment cost of about USD 830 for a 1-ha farm can be recouped within
2-3 years. Since most of the changes can be made incrementally, investment can be stretched over
several years so households do not need to take out loans and incur indebtedness.
At first, the farmers were satisfied to continue growing fruits, vegetables and spices with their
familiar methods; but the same principles that boosted their rice productivity can be adapted in
SCI ways to raise also the productivity of their other crops. The water stored in the pond can
support their horticultural crops as well as their rice crop in the event of drought stress. This
intensification, by generating more value-added, also creates employment opportunities at the
local level while improving the diversity and nutritional quality of family diets.

India
This kind of intensified multi-crop farming system with pond culture has been evaluated
during two years of replicated on-station trials at the ICAR-Indian Institute for Water
Management in Bhubaneswar (Thakur et al., 2015). Simply using rainfed SRI vs. conventional
rainfed rice production methods was found to improve rice yield by 53%, with significant
phenotypical changes in rice plants d o c u m e n t e d . Economic profitability and water
productivity were increased by even more by the use of SRI methods. However, still greater
agronomic, economic and hydrological benefits resulted from converting 13% of the rainfed
paddy area into a catchment pond, stocked with carp while devoting an equal amount of land
area to creating sloping bunds around the pond for the harvesting of rainwater. This
catchment area was planted with fruit crops (bananas and papayas).
On an area basis, the per-hectare cost of managing this more intensified farming system was four
21
times greater than for conventional rainfed rice production. However, the productivity of
water, i.e., the net income per unit of rainfall, was magnified almost 60-fold by this intensified
management (Thakur et al., 2015). The Cambodian farming systems reported on above were
more complex and more integrated than those evaluated in India, and therefore are more
difficult to evaluate in rigorous, replicated trials. But these Indian trials, meeting rigorous
scientific criteria, confirmed the greater productivity of such farming systems.
Moreover, because the second year’s trials happened to be conducted during a water-stressed
season, the Indian evaluation showed that the crops raised with SRI methods were more resilient
and relatively more productive under adverse climatic conditions than were crops conventionally
grown (Thakur et al., 2015). Some of the ecological synergies involved in such systems’
productivity have been analysed in Indonesian trials reported by Khumairoh et al. (2012).

Mechanized, Large-scale SCI


Probably the main constraint on using SCI methods has been that they generally require more
labour per hectare because with SCI, plants are handled and managed more carefully and
proactively. Also, soil, water and nutrient resources are utilized with more precision. Requiring
more labour can be a barrier to adoption of SCI, e.g., in greatly labour-constrained areas wuch
as those affected by HIV. But even when labour is a constraint, it should be considered whether
or not SCI can increase the productivity of farmers’ labour, and whether SCI would enable
farmers to produce more output per hour or day of work invested. SCI has been found
almost always to raise the productivity of farmers’ labour. But a further consideration is:
whether farmers’ labour requirements with SCI can be reduced by mechanizing certain
operations, using implements and machines that are appropriate for SCI. There can be a
considerable degree of mechanization if farmers can afford this. What is most required for this,
apart from capital, is the availability of appropriately-designed machinery and implements.

Pakistan
In Punjab province, the availability of productive agricultural labour is a serious constraint
due to outmigration from rural areas. The high cost and limited availability of labour has
presented an obstacle to the utilization of SRI practices for growing rice, which led to
devising a highly-mechanized version of SRI for rice production (Sharif, 2011). By combining
the ideas of SRI with those of organic agriculture and conservation agriculture (CA), discussed
in the next section, a hybrid technology has been forged which is being called ‘Paradoxical
Agriculture’ (PA). Why this designation? Because this methodology enables farmers to get more
output with reduced inputs, including less labour.iv
Initially this mechanized version of SRI was applied just to rice, but it is now being used
for many other crops, grown on permanent raised beds with no-till cultivation, mulch covering,
and furrow irrigation. The machinery, principles and practices have been adapted for
successfully growing wheat, maize, potatoes, sugarcane, mung bean, carrots, onions, garlic,
melons, cucumber, tomatoes, chillies, and sunflower, preferably in some rotation as i s
advised for CA. At present, mechanized versions of SCI use some inorganic fertilization,
seeking to transition over time to fully-organic crop management. It is recognized that where
soils have been plied with inorganic fertilisers for many years, it takes some time to build up
the beneficial soil biota which contribute to SCI success. Depending on the crop, SCI
establishes plants by transplanting young seedlings or by direct-seeding, all with optimally
wide spacing. Machinery has been especially designed or modified to carry out the requisite
operations (http://www.pedaver.com/).
[Figure 8 about here]
22
This particular methodology for mechanized production of cereals, pulses and vegetables using
the principles of SCI being quite capital-intensive and thus expensive is most suited for larger
farmers. However, the services of the machinery required for forming raised beds, for
planting, and for weeding can be hired out to small farmers on an economical basis. Forming
permanent beds by tractor on laser-leveled fields c a n b e d o n e in a few hours, for example,
and will improve agriculture operations and productivity for many years. W i t h a p p r o p r i a t e
i n s t i t u t i o n a l a r r a n g e m e n t s , m e c h a n i z e d SCI can t h u s be made profitable for
farming at different scales of operation, although not for very small holdings.
Paradoxical Agriculture focuses on optimizing the productivity of a given land area with efficient
use of seed, water, labour, nutrient and other inputs, paying attention to improving the land’s
inherent productivity over time. Plants’ response to the various inputs is a function not just of the
quantity of these inputs but also of their timing and methods of application. For example, it is seen
that foliar application of certain nutrients is much more effective than their application to the
soil. This is especially true for crops like potato, which can be sprayed with small amounts
throughout their life cycle to get large increments in yield. Even when the yield response is not
very large, profitability can be increased because of large reductions in input costs. It is
conservatively calculated that with PA management, net returns/ha can generally increase by at
least 50%.
Mechanization of SCI practices so that they can be applied on a large scale is still in early
stages of development, but already the numbers are encouraging. Table 2 gives some summary
figures for wheat, maize, sugarcane, potatoes and carrots, calculated from farmers’ adaptations of
SCI methodology in Punjab province, e.g., from 144 ha now under SCI potato production. For
these five crops, the average PA/SCI increase in yield/ha has been 62%, with an average 38%
reduction in costs per kg produced. Some of the increases in net income/ha are so large that
calculating an average number from Table 2 is not very meaningful.v

[Table 2 about here]

The spread of SCI methods within Pakistan has occurred mostly within Punjab province, where
there are probably 200 ha of SCI wheat, 1,000 ha of SCI sugarcane, and 100 ha of SCI carrots.
Many if not all of the ideas and methods of SCI cultivation are now spreading with other crops,
however. About 80% of the 1.2 million ha on which maize is grown for grain now has wider
spacing and some other SCI practices; and most of the 500,000 ha under potato production are
moving to SCI spacing. Additionally, many vegetables such as melons and watermelons are
being grown on permanent raised beds, using SCI practices to various degrees. About half of
the cotton-growing area, 3.5 million ha, is now being influenced and improved by SCI
principles which are taking hold fast for this non-food crop.
These are still mostly partial adoptions of SRI ideas and methods. From the smaller-scale,
more-thorough utilization of SCI principles and practices, it is evident that greater agronomic,
environmental and economic benefits could be achieved with fuller use. As stated repeatedly
with regard to SRI, SCI is not a set technology but rather a set of ideas to be adapted and utilized
to meet local needs and conditions. There is usually some initial resistance to making changes in
familiar practices, but we look to empirical results to gain wider acceptance. In Netherlands, a
farmer engaged in large-scale mechanized wheat farming has been using SCI ideas in a Dutch
version of SWI for several years, starting with carefully-selected high-quality seeds and greatly-
reduced seed rates. Using GPS-steered equipment for precision seeding that spaces plants widely
plus organic soil and crop management is found very suitable for winter wheat (Titonell, 2015).
23
Conservation Agriculture Convergence with SCI
Given that SCI, like SRI, is based on agroecological principles for better crop and farming-system
management, it is quite compatible with the allied agroecological system known as Conservation
Agriculture (CA). This makes a convergence between their production strategies reasonable in
many if not all circumstances. Both SCI and CA aim to build up the fertility and sustainability
of soil systems, melding crop, soil, water and nutrient management methods into a
synergistic set of practices that enhance crop productivity and profitability while conserving
environmental quality. There have been in recent decades some important changes in thinking
and practice regarding tillage after millennia of farming when breaking up the soil by plough,
shovel or hoe was seen as a defining and essential characteristic of agriculture (Fernandes et al.,
2002). This age-old conviction is being altered by diverse farmers’ initiatives and experience,
well supported by research findings (Kassam et al., 2009).
Growing understanding and acceptance of CA has reoriented agricultural production strategies
in the following three main ways. CA combines: (a) no or minimum soil disturbance, which in
practice means no-till planting and weeding (for wetland rice, this means not puddling rice paddies
or growing rice on permanent raised beds), with (b) maintenance of a layer of organic matter as
ground cover, using mulch from crop residues or green-manure cover crops, particularly legumes,
and (c) species diversification within the farming system through associations, sequences and
rotations of annual and perennial crops (FAO, 2017).
We have already begun seeing a convergence of CA practices and those of SRI, the precursor of
SCI. SRI ideas and methods for irrigated rice have been combined with no-till and raised-bed
cultivation in Punjab province of Pakistan as seen above (Sharif, 2011) and in Sichuan province of
China (Lu et al., 2013). Neither has yet applied the full CA strategy, however. In the first
instance, there is still mechanical intercultivation for weed control rather than mulching, and in
the second, plastic-film cover is used to control weeds. But in both situations there is crop
rotation. In the Sichuan case, rice is alternatively cropped with mustard (rapeseed) in the
summer and winter seasons, with crop residues from both rice and mustard used as part of an
organic soil management strategy.
In the Punjab applications, as seen in the preceding section, a wide variety of crops are being
alternated with this mechanized version of SCI. In most countries, farmers are predisposed to focus
on a single crop with their cropping decisions guided by influences of the market and of familiarity.
Fortunately, the greater productivity that results from cropping system diversification can create
incentives for fuller adoption of CA principles because mulching with natural biomass is more
favourable for promoting soil biodiversity than is mechanical weeding or plastic mulch.
Investing labour and capital to aerate the soil by mechanical means is not necessary if equivalent
or better aeration can result from biological activity in the soil as is promoted by CA systems. For
example, with mulch soil cover and no-till soil management, the improvements in soil structure and
fertility that are currently achieved through SRI’s active soil aeration with mechanical weeders can be
realized by promoting more abundant and active life in the soil, particularly earthworms and
mycorrhizal fungi. Among other things, aerobic soil conditions favor the presence of fungi that produce
the glycoprotein glomalin which improves the aggregation and stability of soil particles, increasing
the soil’s porosity and lowering its bulk density. Also, CA systems can reduce crops’ water
requirements by making the soil itself more absorptive and retentive of water from rainfall and
irrigation, and by reducing soil evaporation (Kassam et al., 2013).
SCI and CA practices together, by promoting larger root systems in plants and more soil biota,
can each contribute to producing ‘more from less’ (Uphoff, 2017). The convergence of SCI and
CA practices is a logical next step for both, growing SCI crops on untilled soil or transplanting
24
without puddling the soil as is now widely done for growing rice, in either case covering
undisturbed soil with mulch (Jat et al., 2014, 2016; Kassam et al., 2009, 2013).
While specific adaptations must always be made for each crop and local situation, the principles
that guide these adaptations are broadly relevant. When integrated by mobilizing biological
processes and potentials that exist within crop and soil systems, CA and SCI create a situation
that is ultimately less input-dependent, more able to minimize soil degradation, improve
productivity and profitability, harness the flows of ecosystem services (Garbach et al., 2017), and
better adapt to climate change.

Conclusions
In this discussion we have focused on technological innovations that can advance food and
nutrition security under conditions of a changing climate rather than on policy innovations, and
we have not addressed broader societal impacts or implications. Most SCI efforts have come
from the bottom up, often originated by farmers, so there is not the usual challenge of tailoring
technical innovations from experiment stations or test plots to suit local socio-cultural conditions
to gain social acceptance. SCI innovations developed so far have been well-suited to rural
communities and producers because they stem from and are adapted for local needs and
capacities. Rapid acceptance and spread of most SCI initiatives has been seen in the reviews of
various crops.
There has been slower response from policy-makers in most countries, imbued as they are
with the suppositions and preferences of Green-Revolution agricultural technology. Most
policies still focus on developing, and t h e n getting farmers to adopt, ‘improved’ varieties
which require commercial inputs for fertilisation and for protection against pests and diseases. That
SCI does not require new varieties, being suitable for both modern and traditional cultivars and
does not depend much upon purchased inputs, is seen in policy (and agribusiness) circles as
aberrant, maybe even threatening. Most of the push for SCI’s spread has come from farmers
and from civil society, although supporters within government agencies and in the business
community are increasing as SCI’s opportunities for productivity and profitability become
appreciated. In India, the government’s National Rural Livelihood Movement and the National
Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development have become influential supporters of SCI to reduce
poverty and hunger there.
The Green Revolution in the latter decades of the 20th century contributed to improving food and
nutritional security for many although not all households around the world. Unfortunately, it is a
‘thirsty’ innovation, requiring more water rather than less, and its input requirements limit its
accessibility for those households t h at a r e most in need of food and nutrition security. As
SCI is a relatively young innovation, most versions being less than a decade old, there is still
much that is not known about its potentials and its boundaries.
So far, we have not found any drawbacks or disadvantages that would warrant hesitation about
informing farmers about SCI experiences and opportunities. Farmers are normally cautious about
new approaches anyway and would test them under local conditions before undertaking any large-
scale utilisation. Rather than propose immediate and widespread adoption of SCI methods, our
intent here is to urge institutions and individuals to be open to these new possibilities that we have
been seeing in the field, in many countries and for many crops, and to undertake systematic
evaluations of them.

25
Disclosure statement
No potential conflict of interest was reported by the authors.

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34
Table 1: Summary of SCI Experience and Experimentation, by crops and countries

Crop Countries where SCI use has started


Finger millet (Elusine coracana) India (Karnataka, Jharkhand, Uttarakhand),
Ethiopia (Tigray), Malawi
Wheat (Triticum spp.) India (Bihar), Nepal, Afghanistan, Mali,
Pakistan (Punjab), Ethiopia (Tigray, Oromia),
USA (Maine), Netherlands
Maize (Zea mays) India (Uttarakhand, Assam)
Sugarcane (Saccharum officinarum) India (Maharashtra, Odisha, Uttar Pradesh,
Andhra Pradesh), Kenya, Tanzania, Cuba
Tef (Eragrostis tef) Ethiopia (Amhara, Tigray, Oromia)
Mustard/rapeseed/canola (Brassica juncea India (Bihar, Gujarat)
and B. carinata)
Pulses: cowpea/black-eyed pea (Vigna India (Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Bihar,
unguiculata), chickpea/garbanzo beans Uttarakhand), Ethiopia
(Cicer arietinum); mung bean/green gram
(Vigna radiata); lentil/black gram (Vigna
mungo); pigeon pea/red gram (Cajanus
cajun); common/haricot/kidney bean
(Phaseolus vulgaris), soy bean (Glycine
max), groundnut/peanut (Arachis hypogaea)
Vegetables: carrots (Daucus carota), India (Bihar), Pakistan (Punjab), USA
eggplant (Solanum melangina), onions (Maine), Sierra Leone, Ethiopia
(Allium cepa), potatoes (Solanum
tuberosum), mallow (Corchorus olitorius)
Spices: coriander (Coriandrum sativa), India (Gujerat, Tamil Nadu)
cumin (Cuminum cyminum), turmeric
(Curcuma longa)
Fruit trees India (Madhya Pradesh), USA (Maine)
Source: Authors’ own contribution

35
Table 2: Summary results to date from applications of ‘Paradoxical Agriculture’ (PA) in
Punjab province, Pakistan, by crop

Cost of production Net income


Yield (t/ha) (USD/kg) (USD/ha)
(% increase) (% reduction) (% increase)
Current PA Current PA Current PA
Wheat 3 5 0.35 0.20 $242 $345*
( + 60% ) ( - 43% ) ( + 43% )
Maize 9 11 0.18 0.13 $484 $1184
( + 22% ) ( - 28% ) ( + 145% )
Sugarcane ** 70 110 1.26 0.99 $75 $400
( +57% ) ( - 21% ) ( + 433% )
Potatoes 30 42# 0.09 0.06 $2008 $4063
( + 40% ) ( -32% ) ( + 102% )
Carrots 15 35 0.10 0.03 $475 $3398
( +133% ) ( -67% ) ( + 615%)
*This is 1 year net income for SWI; net income in 2 year is $550, and in 3rd year $620.
st nd

** Figures are an average for February and September plantings.


#
After PA has been used enough to improve the soil, potato yields of 50 t/ha are obtained.
Source: Data collected by Asif Sharif, Pedaver, Lahore, Pakistan

36
FIGURE CAPTIONS:

Fig. 1 Finger millet plants grown with different methods in Jharkhand state of India, 2006 season.
On left is a plant of improved variety (A404) grown with adapted SRI methods, including
transplanting of young seedlings; in the center is a plant of the same improved variety grown with
farm ers ’ usual broadcast i ng methods; on right is a local variety grown with these same
traditional broadcasting methods. (Photo courtesy of B. Abraham)

Fig. 2 Comparison of the root systems of finger millet plants grown in Jharkhand state of
India; SFMI methods on left, and conventional methods on right. (Photo courtesy of B. Abraham)

Fig. 3 Comparison of root growth in finger millet plants at 60 days after sowing, in 2004-05
rabi season trials at Acharya N.G. Ranga Agricultural University in H y d e r a b a d , India.
(Photo courtesy of A. Satyanarayana)

Fig. 4 Adjacent wheat fields planted at the same time in Chandrapura village, Khagaria district,
Bihar state, India, in 2012. The SWI wheat field on left matured earlier than the traditionally-
managed field on right. SWI crop panicles had already emerged while the crop grown with
standard methods was still in its vegetative stage. (Photo by E. Styger)

Fig. 5 Comparison of tef panicles growing from a single plant: the top panicle was grown with
TIRR methods, and the bottom panicle with standard broadcasting methods. (Photo courtesy of
Z. Gebretsadik)

Fig. 6 Average tef yields (t/ha) with different planting methods and different seed rates, ranging
from 30 kg to 0.4 kg seed/ha, in 2012/13 season. (a) Broadcasting @ 30 kg seed/ha; (b)
Broadcasting @ 5 kg seed/ha; (c) Row planting (direct seeding) @ 5 kg seed/ha; (d)
Transplanting yo u n g s e e d l i n g s @ 0.4 kg seed/ha. (Source: Berhe, 2014)

Fig. 7 SCI carrot bed, on left, and harvest, on right, at Teltane Farm, Monroe, Maine, USA, 2014.
(Source: Fulford, 2014)

Fig. 8 On left, mechanized making of raised beds and furrows in Punjab province of Pakistan; on
right, SCI carrots being grown on raised beds. (Photos by A. Sharif)

37
NOTES
iAs this is a review article rather than a research article, we do not provide extensive detail here
on the conditions and methodologies for all of the reported data. Such information is given in
the references cited, or comes from records of the organizations conducting the evaluations and
making the measurements. Many of the reports are not in the published literature because the
work is quite recent or was done in farmers’ fields where precise measurement was not possible.
What the results lack in precision is, we think, compensated for by realism. Comparisons were
assessed as accurately as possible under the conditions, with no intent or incentive to exaggerate
because this would be to the disadvantage of the farmers and others whom the innovation is
supposed to benefit. Most of the unpublished reports have been posted on the internet with links
given in the References so that readers can have direct access to the reporting on methods and
results, enabling them to make their own assessments of how much credence to give to the data.

ii Field inquiries did not determine how many years ago this innovation began (Uphoff, 2006).

iii
As this article is focused on cropping, it has not considered livestock within an SCI framework.
However, we note that many millions of households in Ethiopia and elsewhere who are resource-
limited, and thus food/nutrition-insecure, rely heavily on the rearing of animals to complement
their field and garden production. The benefits from animal husbandry support the enrichment
and maintenance of soil fertility through its supply of manure (see e.g., Basu and Scholten
2012). One form of mixed-farming system intensification is the ‘cut-and-carry’ system with
animals confined in pens or corrals. This makes the collection and use of manure and urine more
efficient, and it facilitates the optimal utilization of crop residues. While this intensification
requires more expenditure of labour and some capital investment, the interaction effects among
plants, animals and microbes can raise the productivity of land, labour, capital and water. This
animal dimension of broader integrative adaptations should be kept in mind even though it is not
considered here within our focus on cropping.
iv
The first trial to evaluate growing irrigated rice with SRI methods and a high degree of
mechanization was conducted in 2009 on a large test plot (17.5 ha) that had been laser-leveled
with machine-made permanent raised beds and furrow irrigation (see Fig. 8). The average paddy
yield achieved was 12 tonnes/ha, with a 70% reduction in water use compared to usual practice,
and with a 70% reduction in the usual amount of labour needed (Sharif, 2011).
v
The large increase in income from carrot production can be explained as follows, for example.
Conventionally, after the seed bed has been prepared, carrot seed is broadcasted on it; ridges are
made so that water for the crop is supplied to it in furrows. The seeds sprout densely on the top
of the ridge with very little space for proper growth. Although the growth looks profuse, almost
80% of the carrots that result have to be graded B, C or D. With PA cultivation, in contrast, five
rows are seeded on raised beds 105-cm-wide with uniform spacing between plants. The target is
a harvest of 700,000 mature carrots/ha. PA’s bed-planting methods actually increase the growing
area for each carrot, and almost 80% are marketable as grade A, which commands a much
higher price. See Fig. 7 above for the same SCI effect in USA. This greatly increased
profitability results from the introduction of a suite of complementary practices, plus their timely
application, to create ideal growing environments for each respective crop.
38
Figure 1
Figure 2
Figure 3
Figure 4
Figure 5
Figure 6

Grain yield (tonnes)

3.5
3
2.5
2
1.5
1
0.5
0
30 BC S BC 5 Row 0.4 TP
Figure 7a
Figure 7b
Figure 8a
Figure 8b